Like children, we can only express and regulate our emotions if we are able to notice them in real-time and understand how they affect our thoughts and behavior.

Many people find it difficult to recognize emotions as they are feeling them, which can cause them to act in a way they later regret.

Activities to Help Kids Notice How They Are Feeling

These activities will help you teach children how to recognize their emotions in the moment, which will allow them to use better communication, expression and coping skills, when necessary.

Label emotions and the signs

Name your child’s emotions as you notice them and describe how you know they may be feeling a certain way.

Describing behaviors, facial expressions, tone of voice or body language helps you identify how they are feeling. Remember: validate how they are feeling and don't judge the emotion.

For example, “I see your fists are clenched and you’re stomping. It seems like you’re angry.” This highlights the fact we have signs to let other people know how we are feeling.

Talk about past situations

Learning to notice our emotions in the moment can be hard. Once a child is calm following a difficult moment, talk about what happened. Have them name what they were feeling and how their body felt. You can also use personal examples to help normalize this discussion.

Mind-body connection

Help your child learn how to identify emotions early on by noticing how they feel in their body.

For example, some of us feel butterflies in our tummies when we’re nervous, some of us feel our cheeks are hot when we’re angry, and some of us feel like there’s a hole in our chest when sad.

Use our download to get creative and have your child draw what their emotions feel like in their body.

Draw different scenarios

Have children draw pictures of things or situations that make them feel happy, sad, angry, nervous, etc.

Ask them about what they drew and talk about how they knew they were feeling that emotion in the moment.

You can also help kids remember certain situations where they tend to experience a particular emotion, like when they see a good friend (happy/excited), when they get dropped off at school (nervous/worried), or when a sibling takes a toy from them (angry/mad). This will help them recognize these emotions sooner in the future.

Keep a daily emotions journal

Have your children keep a daily emotion journal where they write or draw about the emotions they are feeling in that moment and what they have experienced throughout the day. Encourage them to describe how their body felt in that moment and how they knew what they were feeling.

Remember, your goal is to teach your child how to notice an emotion early, so they can be more purposeful with their choices instead of letting their emotion control them. At first, the adults need to do most of the work, but over time, you will notice children start to recognize their emotions earlier and can start to take action. As they learn to catch their emotion in the moment, you can start teaching them how to express what they are feeling.